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American Bar Association to Honor Texas Lawyer Betty Balli Torres

American Bar Association to Honor Texas Lawyer Betty Balli Torres

By Gabriel McIntosh

Torres to receive award for her dedication to securing legal aid funding

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 9, 2012 – Betty Balli Torres, executive director of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation in Austin, Texas, will receive the American Bar Association Grassroots Advocacy Award for securing legal aid funding and ensuring access to the justice for low-income Americans. The award will be presented April 18 during a reception at the United States Supreme Court.

As president of the National Association of Interest on Lawyers Trust Account Programs, Torres played a key role in the legislative victory that required the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to fully insureIOLTA. The interest generated from these  accounts provides funding  for civil legal services for people near or below the poverty line, including the working poor, low-income veterans and persons with disabilities.  IOLTA is one of the largest funding sources for free legal services in the country,  supporting legal aid offices and pro bono programs in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands.

Torres also works to ensure that members of the Texas congressional delegation— including key appropriators and Deficit Reduction Committee members—know the importance of funding for the Legal Services Corporation, which helps subsidize legal aid for low-income Americans and provides assistance to lawyers who serve them.

With 63 million Americans—including 22 million children—qualifying for assistance, LSC is the nation’s single largest provider of civil legal aid to citizens who live on incomes below or near the poverty line. Independent LSC-funded local programs, such as Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, help meet the overwhelming legal needs of struggling families, veterans, disaster victims and the elderly, among others, in every state.   In 2010, LSC-funded aid providers in Texas closed nearly 67,000 cases including child custody matters, foreclosures and veterans claims.

Last year, LSC advocates worked to prevent a devastating $104.2 million (25.7 percent) proposed cut to the LSC budget of $404.2 million in fiscal year 2010.   While the House of Representatives proposed funding LSC at $300 million, the Senate favored an allocation of $396 million.   Ultimately, funding was set at $348 million, thanks in part to Torres’ efforts.

Torres also worked with the Supreme Court of Texas and other access to justice partners in the effort to obtain vital funding for legal services.

“Every day, families go without much-needed protection from abuse, benefits to which they are entitled, and they lose homes because they are unable to access the justice system due to inability to afford a lawyer. As lawyers, we each have a role to play to ensure that everyone has access to our judicial system.  That access is not possible without critical funding of legal aid programs that do the day-to-day work and provide the infrastructure and support to thousands of lawyers doing pro bono work in this country.” said Torres.

“Betty’s work to secure full FDIC protection for IOLTA and effort alongside the Supreme Court of Texas to restore legal services funding has ensured access to justice for many Americans who could not otherwise afford legal advice. It is a great privilege for the ABA to celebrate her work,” said ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III.

Torres will receive one of the five ABA Grassroots Advocacy Awards that will be given as part of the ABA’s annual effort to connect policymakers with constituents in the legal profession.  ABA Day 2012 brings distinguished lawyers from 50 states to Washington, D.C., to discuss issues such as funding for the Legal Services Corporation, the Violence Against Women Act, and the collection of overdue state court-ordered fees.

Other recipients of 2012 ABA Grassroots Advocacy Awards include George Cauthen, Nelson Mullins et al; L. Jonathan Ross, Primmer Piper Eggleston & Cramer PC; The State Bar of Michigan; and the Supreme Court of Texas.

Please click here for a photo of Betty Balli Torres.

With nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world.   As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

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